HUMZA Yousaf has fiercely defended the launch of a Low Emission Zone (LEZ) in Glasgow in the face of Tory calls to delay it for a further year. 

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross insisted the LEZ - which will bar petrol cars made before 2005 and diesel cars made before 2014 from the city centre - would risk jobs with some businesses insisting it will create a "low economy zone".

But Yousaf attacked the Tories for repeatedly opposing policies aimed at tackling climate change

He said: "It's an undeniable fact that every time this SNP government brings forward action to tackle the biggest threat this planet faces, the Tories oppose it time and time again.

READ MORE: Glasgow's LEZ 'will save lives', say Greens as new rules come into force

"It is absolutely critical for all of us that believe in tackling this climate emergency that we don't just talk the talk, but walk the walk."

During an FMQs featuring plenty of heckling, Ross raised the case of charity Homeless Project Scotland who he wrongly said were refused an exemption to use a refrigerated van within the zone. Their chairman has said it helps to feed 300 people each day by collecting food from 15 to 20 businesses.

Glasgow City Council has since confirmed to The National the charity has received an exemption to the scheme.  

However, Homeless Project Scotland has said on Twitter it was "forced" to buy a van at £15,000 before it could receive an exemption and had to "plead" with the council on Wednesday night to be given time to finish prep on the new van.

The two-month stay will allow the charity to use its current vehicle while work is carried out on its new, LEZ-compliant van.

The Glasgow Low Emission Zone (LEZ) covers the city centre bounded by the M8 to the north and west, the River Clyde to the south, and the High Street and Saltmarket to the east.

Drivers of exempt vehicles, which include most diesel cars registered after 2015 and most petrol cars registered from 2006 as well as blue badge holders and emergency vehicles, will not be charged for entering the LEZ.

But those who drive non-exempt vehicles will be charged £60 for their first incursion. Fines for driving a non-compliant vehicle can be as high as £480 for repeat offenders.

Ross suggested it would be better to delay the introduction of the restricted area for another year to allow time to further engage with businesses. He added the delivery of the scheme has been "tone deaf".

But Yousaf said: “If we had delayed, more people would have suffered in terms of their asthma, more people would have suffered because of their lung conditions, more people would have suffered because of COPD.

“More of the citizens of Glasgow would have suffered dire health consequences because we know air pollution in Glasgow is nowhere near the standards that we want it to be and the LEZ will help with that."

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Meanwhile, Labour leader Anas Sarwar questioned Yousaf about NHS waiting times as he attacked Yousaf's previous record as health secretary.

Sarwar highlighed how more than 18,000 Scots died last year after "languishing" on an NHS waiting list compared to 13,211 in 2019 - a rise of 39% - and asked when the Government would meet the 12-week legal treatment time guarantee.

Sarwar said: "These are not just numbers, these are people waiting in pain, many dying far too early, leaving behind heartbroken families.

"As health secretary, Humza Yousaf failed to get a grip on NHS waitng lists and on his watch they grew by over 175,000.

"Nearly two years ago, he published a recpovery paln for the NHS and since then things have got worse. When will his government meet the legal tratment time guarantee so that fewer Scots are losing their lives?"

Yousaf insisted progress was being made on waiting times.

He said: "If I look at the outpatient two-year waits, we’ve seen that numbers are down 19% from the last quarter, crucially down almost 70% from quarter two in 2022.

"In terms of those that are waiting 12 months in relation to outpatients, we know that since the target was introduced in quarter three in 2022, the numbers of new outpatients has reduced by over 15%.

"If I look at inpatients, again we’ve seen similar decreases. If I look at inpatient day cases, those that have waited over two years, we’ve seen those numbers reduce by 27% since those targets were announced.

"We are making progress and we’re also investing record numebrs in our NHS recovery."

Labour leader Anas Sarwar also claimed a “two-tier” healthcare system is being created.

Figures from the Private Healthcare Information Network show 19,000 Scottish patients have opted to pay for their treatment, with self-pay admissions increasing 73% on pre-pandemic levels.

Sarwar told the Holyrood chamber: “As health secretary, Humza Yousaf said he would have eradicated two-year waits by now and he has patently failed.

“Grieving families will see through these excuses. But this isn’t even the full picture, according to FOI responses, thousands of people are forced to leave the NHS and pay for their treatment in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.

“Does the First Minister accept that his incompetence has created a two-tier NHS, where people are forced to either go into debt in order to stop the pain and get treatment they need, or to languish on an NHS waiting list?”

Yousaf replied: “No, I don’t agree to Anas Sarwar’s characterisation.”